Space is not known for its interesting topography. The word itself implies no terrain at all, so it’s logical that the original Homeworld series (an RTS game set in an airless, vacuum space) had no terrain. But it was the early 2000s. Now, the long-awaited sequel Homeworld 3, due out in 2023, reinvents one of his fundamentals of strategic combat in space. There is terrain. In other words, it has cover mechanics that completely change the game.
Played through two early missions for Homeworld 3 during a one-hour hands-on session at Gamescom 2022. The tutorial-centric Facility 315 and the more dangerous Kesra Oasis. Both were occupied by dozens of terrains. Asteroids, derelict spaceships, and giant megastructures are just a few of the items that float on Homeworld 3’s map.
The Kesura Oasis map design is the star of this particular show. A huge ship, like a broken Star Destroyer, acts as a foundation. It’s an amazing sight to see. Up close, you can see the painstaking detail of dead machinery, flashing lights, and mechanical “innards” leaking from the twisted and torn hull. But when you zoom out, you can see some mechanical logic at work in that structure. From a distance, you can clearly see the routes your units can take around this vast terrain. Naturally, for an RTS played in 3D space, fleets can move above or below them, but the chunks that giant ships divide up provide ‘lanes’ through which fighters can fly. Even better, you can send the group to the engine exhaust of the wreck. This acts as a direct tunnel to the halfway point of the map, allowing ships to respawn from hull fractures.
All of this makes map design much more rewarding than empty space, but terrain really shines when battle breaks out. The mission involved a large number of powerful enemy ships and was able to unleash a long barrage of homing-her missiles, ripping my small scouts and interceptors to pieces. In a head-on fight, my unit was not going to miss an opportunity. However, by using cover and flanking tactics, they were able to turn the table. Drawing the enemy’s attention to interceptor units, the developer flew behind what Blackbird Interactive calls “lily pads” (effectively floating metal plates). When the enemy ships fired a barrage of missiles at the Interceptor, which survived thanks to the new cover, I was able to send in a squad of bombers from behind. Rocketships floated scrap before swinging to target the new invaders.
Historically, the Homeworld series has always been about hard counters. Like rock-paper-scissors, each unit always had strong ships and ships that were struggling to dodge. This is also true in Homeworld 3, but the cover opportunities offered by the terrain add a ‘soft’ counter tactic to the overall strategy. Instead, you will be able to actively shoot down ships that you wouldn’t normally shoot down. For example, these enemy rocket ships are heavily countered by bombers, but destroy them with groups of interceptors that were able to flank them while missiles targeted reconnaissance units that were hiding in cover. Sure, it was slower and less effective, but the scenario shows how new tactical opportunities can be found in this terrain.
As an early campaign mission, Kesura Oasis is relatively straightforward. While my fighters maneuvered through cover to deal with barrages of missiles, I slowly advanced the mothership across the wreckage of massive structures, providing fire support from a dozen or so heavy weapons. I made it possible. While everything was going on, there was a utility ship collecting keys that were plugged into shipwrecks in order to power up the giant hyperspace gate, which was its main purpose.Guide your fleet in 3D space A lot less stressful between the two tasks thanks to highly intuitive controls that always predict exactly where you’re going.
So the big question is what Homeworld 3 will be like when the pressure really builds. Blackbird promised this would be a game about strategy, positioning, and forward thinking for the superhuman action-per-minute gameplay that many RTS games love. This is very encouraging. I’m curious to see what this approach means for combat encounters and mission objectives in later missions in the story. It’s easy to imagine complex structures. One that offers all sorts of flanking tactics, or perhaps “space stealth” opportunities. In this case, ships can slip past groups of enemies thanks to a line of sight-breaking freighters. Whatever lies ahead for us throughout the campaign, we hope to really embrace and always promote strategic terrain opportunities like the ones we’ve seen in this demo.
Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK News and Features Editor.